Wherein We Muster Cautious Optimism For Sylvester Stallone's Next Film

Mickey Rourke has signed on for Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables, joining Jason Statham, Jet Li, Forest Whitaker and (ahem) Dolph Lundgren in a testosterrific tough-guy ensemble. Which leads us to ask: Can this possibly suck?

Actually, don't answer that. Even with born-again genre slut Sir Ben Kingsley rumored to have an eye on the project, it's not necessarily unfair to calculate the sum of these parts as "clusterfuck": Guided by Stallone both in front of and behind the camera, a gang of mercenaries heads off to South America to take down a ruthless dictator. But perhaps its the optimism of a new year or, more rationally, the concept of a Gran Torino-esque valedictory with half the syllables and twice the bullets that has us intrigued at the possibilities here. To wit:

· Score One: The Second Coming of Mickey Rourke owes itself in part to Stallone's faith in him a decade ago, when he recommended Rourke for a minor role in the remake of Get Carter. Their brooding, mangle-faced chemistry was about the only thing that clicked while the film imploded around them. We wanted more, and we'll get it.

· Score Two: One of our New Year's resolutions is to explain why Statham may be the greatest actor working today — with the exception of War, his misbegotten action showcase with Li, who requires some atonement of his own. The Expendables offers a nurturing environment for that to occur. Or it will affirm a Statham/Li curse, which will at least save Flopz™-grade genre-flick mills the trouble of bothering again in the future. Win-win.

· Score Three: A Stallone/Lundgren reunion bespeaks more than inspired stunt-casting, but also the prospect for unprecedented levels of bonding between fathers nostalgic for Rocky IV and sons who'll attend anything with them as long as they can drive the car.

· Score Four: Unless you count Denzel Washington (we don't) and his Where the Wild Things Are voice work for Spike Jonze, Forest Whitaker hasn't worked with a real director since Kevin Macdonald shepherded him to an Oscar in 2006. He may not fully reclaim his edge, but if he can just anchor a group like this, we'll take it.

· Score Five: It's not Rambo V.